PITTSFIELD, Mass. — A free performance of "Ain't I a Woman," a play that highlights significant African-American women in history, will cap Barrington Stage Company's five-day Black Voices Celebration.
The curtain will be drawn at 6 p.m. Sunday on the company's Tartell Family Outdoor Stage at the Polish Community Club on Linden Street.
Shirley Edgerton, the Pittsfield Public Schools' cultural proficiency coach, and Felicia Robertson wrote the production in 2009 as a way to tell the often difficult stories of unsung Black heroines.
Edgerton, who is also the director, explained that the narrative has been modified for the 2021 performance.
"Given the time period that we're in with the social-emotional upheaval that we've gone through, the conversations about our American history, the stories that have been left out, I just thought it would be appropriate to tweak 'Ain't I a Woman' a little bit, because some of the characters from 2009, there has been a little more public acknowledgment in celebration of their contributions," she explained.
This year, the play is dedicated to Mabel Hamilton, a longtime Pittsfield resident and community activist who died in April at age 88.
The production is a community project including local performer Wanda Houston cast as artists Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald and former Mayor James Ruberto, who performed in the first run more than a decade ago.
Ruberto will play the role of the "man over there" referenced in Sojourner Truth's speech at the 1851 Women's Convention in Akron, Ohio, titled "Ain't I Woman," which the play is named after.
Edgerton was delightfully surprised to have him a part of the production again.
"Sojourner Truth makes this speech at the very beginning of the production, and she's at a women's conference and it's all basically all white women that have been speaking, and then she raises her hands and says I want to speak because I am," she explained.
"That's where 'Ain't I a Woman' comes from, she makes a speech and says 'ain't I a woman?' and then goes on to talk about her experiences as a woman of color, and in the speech, she talks about this man over there and that's the former mayor -- he is the man over there."
The production also stars Chantell McFarland as Bessie Smith, Akilah Edgerton as the narrator, and includes members of the Women of Color Giving Circle and the Rites of Passage and Empowerment Program (ROPE).
Edgerton hopes that this production helps the younger generation understand the importance of ancestors and honoring those who paved the way for today.
"Those women whose shoulders, I truly embrace that we stand on that all women stand on and I think this is an opportunity for young women and children to understand where we've come from because our past does impact our future," She said.
"And I mean, we look at the experiences we had last summer, when you think about the 60s in the civil rights movement and the protests, well, what were we doing last summer? You know, but yet there was very much a reflection of what has already happened in our history, so I think that's why it's important for young people to know, history to appreciate history, and try to understand where we been, as they tried to move us forward."
The play is about 50 minutes long and audience members are encouraged to bring their own chairs to the venue.
A Celebration of Black Voices continues on Friday and Saturday nights featuring local talent and Sunday's dramatic performance is preceded by a gospel choir at 1 p.m. hosted by Price Memorial AME Zion Church. More information here.
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